May 02 AT 8:00 AM Christopher Earle 28 Comments

Steel: G1 Web Browsing Without the Clutter

The native web browser for the T-Mobile G1 with Google is good. In fact, it is very good. However, some features, like the zoom buttons, get in the way of reading the text on web pages. Steel solves this and adds gesture based browser tools and a larger area for web browsing. In addition, Steel adds a soft keyboard for many common browsing tasks.

If you are looking for a clean, simple web browser with a solid gesture based interface and a soft keyboard, Steel is your browser.

Hidden Commands Require Some Practice

The Steel interface is clean and simple. The browser opens blank. To load a web page, users must touch the bubble on the lower right side of the screen. The bubble will bring up the URL bar and a bar at the bottom of the screen. The plus (+) to the left of the URL field adds a bookmark for the current page. Selecting the URL field brings up a very functional soft keyboard. The icon to the right of the URL field either re-loads the page or stops the page from loading, depending on whether the page has finished loading or is in the process of loading.

The navigation bar of Steel.

The navigation bar of Steel.

The lower navigation bar has page forward and back buttons, a view bookmarks button, and a button that allows for the selection of available windows.

The power of the browser lies in the features aren’t visible until you long touch the screen, links, or an image. Although this is similar in some ways to the native browser, Steel pops up a translucent context sensitive pie menu instead of the native context menus. This allows you to continue to view content while executing other commands.

Long touching anywhere on the web page brings up a context sensitive pie menu that allows you to zoom in and out of the page and re-load the current page. Using the context menus takes some practice. Instead of lifting your finger and pressing the selection, you must slide your finger to the desired command. At first this seems strange, but after a few minutes it really improves the web browsing experience.

Long touching an image brings up a pie menu with share, save, copy, open, and zoom functions. These work in much the same way as the native browser.

Long touching a link will bring up a context sensitive pie menu with the option to zoom, open, copy, or share the URL.

The Menu Key

The pie menu with zoom controls.

The pie menu with zoom controls.

Pressing the menu key brings up a number of useful setting to customize your browsing experience. The virtual keyboard can be turned on and off, the color of the virtual keys can be set to light or dark, the menu bar and lower navigation bar can be set to always visible, and the browser’s default full screen mode can be turned off. In addition, the location of the control bubble can be set to be more convenient for left handed users and the screen can be set to auto-rotate when the physical keyboard is opened. One of the nice features of the Steel soft keyboard is that the phone will vibrate each time a soft key is pressed. This function can be turned off, if desired.

Other standard web functions can be set up via the menu button. This includes setting the start page, enabling or disabling java script, and setting the user agent and cache mode. The menu button also allows for the clearing of saved form data, passwords, history and cookies.


Although a number of the features of Steel are expected to be in the Cupcake release of Android, their present implementation in Steel is very good. If you are looking for a good, simple browser that doesn’t get in the way of the web content, Steel is a fantastic app.

Update:  According to the dev’s blog, a new release is on the way that supports Cupcake.

Steel for Android
Version: 0.0.19
Developed By: kolbysoft
Price: FREE
Filesize: 189KB
Christopher Earle has been working as a freelance writer since 1987. He currently lives in the Denver, Colorado area with his wife, son, and their two cats. He has been a fan of open source software for many years.

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  • Wade

    I ran Steel for about a month and then uninstalled it a few days ago. The features were cool, but the constant crashing was not. I’ve been happily using the default browser with none of the issues Steel was having. Stability > Gestures. I hope they can either improve Steel or add similar features into the default browser, because the zoom buttons are pretty annoying, especially when they cover a link/button at the bottom of a page.

    • Taylor Wimberly

      I tried it too, but went back to the default browser. The new version in Android 1.5 is much improved in both features and performance.

      It will be interesting to see what the dev of Steel does with his next release.

      • Demi Adejuyigbe

        I agree completely. With the addition of autorotate and the onscreen keyboard, Steel just isn’t necessary to me anymore.

        Great article!

  • chris

    I am a fan of steel too. The one thing that bothers me is that you can’t make it the default browser.

    • Demi Adejuyigbe

      You can make it the default browser- just go to Settings > Applications > Manage Applications > Browser, and click Clear Defaults. Then, whenever you open up another link to a website, select Steel as your default for those links. (There will be a pop up.)

      • Chris

        Pshh, I must have messed up the default choice the first time around. Thanks. Now when I click links in an email it opens up in steel!

  • keks24

    Still waiting to see opera mobile on android. Opera link is something i dont want to miss especially on my mobile.

    • Demi Adejuyigbe

      Opera’s already on the market. It was released a while ago. It hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still pretty good.

      • Ricky

        Opera MOBILE not Mini.
        There’s a difference.

        But yeah, I’ve tried Steel before, and honestly didn’t like it much. I rather use the default browser.

    • Demi Adejuyigbe
      • oscillik

        as Ricky has already pointed out, that is not Opera MOBILE. That is Opera MINI and it is in a completely different league.

        Opera Mini is a Java based app that runs on a whole slew of other phones (including Nokia S40 phones), uses server end processing of documents, and is rather feature-light.

        Opera Mobile is a fully featured browser currently only available to Windows Mobile and Symbian phones.

  • Parris

    I like the steel browser, but where is that circular zoom that we thought was supposed to be in the cupke release?

  • Gammax

    I just want A G1… im with helio, only till june 11 till i get one, stupid contracts.

  • nEx.Software

    I too uninstalled Steel. Not for any particular reason other than I always found myself choosing the built-in browser when prompted. I am working on a tabbed browser in my spare time.

  • Rushmore

    I do not agree that Steel is useless now. It has better screen layout options and has full screen support. Priceless space is taken up by the default browser.

    Steel is better IMHO-. I do not have all the force closed mentioned here.

  • michelle

    I also prefer the default browser, it seems more convienient to me.

  • craig

    the problem is with 1.5 (haykuro/dev builds) the transparency is gone and it doesn’t work.

    plus with the haykuro builds the default browser has multitouch.

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  • alphanzo

    You left out the single best feature, and the primary reason I use steel! It handles multiple windows with the greatest ease. Each new window has an x-box in the bubble menu to easile close. No more pressing menu and trying to find which window you don’t want (very annoying, and you can forget windows are open causing more clutter, where in steel, the close box reminds you there are multiple windows open and invites you to close them easily). Plus, a simple thumb swipe let’s you go from one window to the next. I set steel as default solely for this, as once you get used to it you will become angry at how difficult the default browser makes these simple tasks.

  • laz

    My favorite feature in steel is in the settings you can give the browser a iphone signature. So you can visit sites like or espn and get the wrapped iphone version.

    i feel like it loads sites a lot quicker than standard browser too.

  • JDea

    I like the way steel window previews, and is able to switch through windows with a much sleeker and smoother ease

    The regular browser likes to switch into a whole new window layout and pop in and out the windows you select

    Lots of lag time and time wasted as it does that process

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  • Hooty

    Amazing app, this is my new default browser.

  • chasy

    I tried Steel when it first came out but I was also still getting comfortable with the G1 so the lack of words on the menu was REALLY intimidating. LOL So I uninstalled it. This was back in April, I think.

    Incidentally, this morning, the native browser has refused to open – it just force closes. I don’t have time to do a wipe and see if that fixes the problem (I’ve rooted but I’m the rare sort-of-geek-who-doesn’t-totally-realize-what-she’s-done-to-her-phone-by-rooting. ;)) so I decided to download Steel again and see if it would at least hold me over until I had a chance to wipe. The lack of words in menus intimidated me again (I have geek qualities but mostly, I’m just a dork) so I went to the website and read the instructions. It’s *much* simpler than I even realized! Now that I’m familiar with it, I like it much better than the native browser. The cupcake version also allows making it the default browser, which I noticed was a common complaint back in May.

    If you tried this browser once and then uninstalled, I highly recommend you try it again. :)

  • chasy

    Ha ha! I was so engrossed in reading about Steel that I didn’t even realize what site I was at!! You’re the one who helped me root in the first place! :-D Thank you for your site – it has been a wealth of information for me on more than one occasion. :)

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